Friday, December 17, 2021

The new block of 4th Street: Park Road to Ohio River Blvd., 1945 - '46

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
April 10, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

The photo above shows the practically brand-new intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St. The photo must have been taken from the American Bridge Office building which stood southwest of the new intersection.

John Domansky IDed the small building on the southwest corner of the intersection as belonging to the gas company. But so far, I don't have any confirming information.

Here are more views of the new brick-paved intersection:

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
north side of American Bridge Office shown on upper left
American Bridge Co. plant in background, right
April 10, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
looking west toward American Bridge Co. plant
American Bridge Office building on left
April 10, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
American Bridge Park on right
American Bridge Co. plant in background
April 4, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
looking toward 400 block of Park Rd.
April 10, 1946
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

That house on the corner of Park Rd. and 4th St. is still there, as is the darker house on Park Rd. above it, only now there's another house between them. 

During the spring and summer of 1945, that new block of 4th St. had been constructed to connect Park Rd. to the new extension of Ohio River Blvd. from the Allegheny County line to Ambridge's 8th St.

Ohio River Blvd. and 4th St.
looking east from Ohio River Blvd.
American Bridge Office building on right
October 18, 1945
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Ohio River Blvd. and 4th St. 
construction on 4th St.
American Bridge Co. plant in background
October 18, 1945
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Construction of 4th St. between Park Rd. and Ohio River Blvd.
north side of American Bridge Office bldg.
October 18, 1945
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Intersection of Park Rd. and 4th St.
looking west toward American Bridge plant
October 18, 1945
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

I believe that the sign to the right of the parked car says:
"Entrance at Merchant St. to American Bridge Co. and Penna. R. R. Station"

But extending 4th St. from Park Rd. to the boulevard had a legal complication: the land needed for the extension was owned by the American Bridge Co. The extension would go right through the American Bridge Park.

The legal issues involved in extending 4th St. through American Bridge's private property was nicely resolved in a "Deed of Dedication" which was memorialized as Ambridge Borough's Ordinance No. 562. Here's the beginning of the lengthy handwritten ordinance which included the signed deed:

An ordinance approving and accepting a Deed of Dedication from the American Bridge Company for the purpose of dedicating to public use that portion of Fourth Street, extended, in the said Borough of Ambridge, between Park Road and the new Pennsylvania State Highway.
In the deed, the American Bridge Co. agreed to give Ambridge Borough the legal right to the portion of 4th St. between Park Rd. and the new extension of Ohio River Blvd. For that right, Ambridge paid American Bridge Co. $1.00.

Thanks to the Borough of Ambridge's Marilyn Sheleheda for scanning Ordinance No. 562 for me. The ordinance was not only not available online, but bound in a large book with other old handwritten ordinances. Scanning that couldn't have been easy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Marketing the new town of Ambridge: Part 1: Porter Locomotive is coming! Porter Locomotive is coming! But did it?

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"The H. K. Porter Company"
"Locomotive Shops to Employ 2,000 to 3,000 Men"
Pittsburg Press,
April 18, 1906

In 1903, the American Bridge Company started building the world's largest structural steel fabricating plant along the east side of the Ohio River. The building site was on land that had once belonged to the Harmony Society, which by then, had faded away, becoming history.

In the former Harmonist village of Economy, north of the new plant, a small number of non-Harmonist businesses and employees of the Society remained. But beyond the village, there was mostly undeveloped land: fields, orchards, vineyards, and pastures, occasionally punctuated by coke ovens and oil and gas wells.

Now think of what the American Bridge Co. had to do to start a thriving industrial town from basically scratch.

Sure, the company might have no problem attracting the massive labor force needed to build, then work in, their new plant. But think of everything those workers would need. Homes, food, supplies, transportation, banks, postal service, schools, churches. And what about infrastructure? Who would build streets, sidewalks, sewers, a water system? How do you attract professionals needed to care for the sick or bury the dead?

American Bridge did pretty much what's still done today. It hired a real estate company. And that company advertised.

The Real Estate Trust Co. of Pittsburgh, which had a branch office at the corner of Park Rd. and 5th St. in Ambridge, was given the task of selling the new town of Ambridge to potential businesses, investors, and residents. Early on, the company published a multi-page sales brochure, "Ambridge, Reasons for Her Coming Greatness," with descriptions and photos of the very early stages of the building of the American Bridge plant and Ambridge's infrastructure.

In May 1904, the real estate company placed two full-page ads in the Pittsburg* Press, touting the marvels of the new "manufacturing city" of Economy. The "Ambridge" name hadn't caught on yet.

The first ad, full of hyperbole and fantastic predictions, offered a free train excursion to see "the greatest industrial and city building progress in modern times." I highly recommend reading the ad; it's not only entertaining, but offers a jaw-dropping view of the early plans for Ambridge's development. (The ad's easiest to read if you visit the digital Pittsburg Press from May 3, 1904.)

Ad for "The Marvel City"
Pittsburg Press
May 23, 1904

The following day, the Press featured another full-page ad.

Ad for "The Marvel City"
Pittsburg Press
May 24, 1904

This second ad still contained some of the same amazing predictions about the future Ambridge as the previous day's ad did. But I think the seconds ad's most astonishing selling point was that it featured former Harmony Society trustee, "world's famous bandmaster," John Duss, saying his "greatest achievement" was selling "miles of level plateau to capitalists." (Click here to read the ad in the digital Pittsburg Press.)

In the spring of 1906, the same real estate company started placing a series of smaller ads in the Pittsburg PressPittsburgh Post, and Pittsburgh Gazette, this time focusing not on what Ambridge was going to become, but rather on what Ambridge already was.

The exception to these ads featuring Ambridge's already-existing amenities, buildings, and infrastructure were the earliest five that I found. Those five ads announced that the famous Porter Locomotive Co., which made small industrial locomotives used in places like mills, lumberyards, and mines, had plans for a huge new plant in Ambridge.

These Porter Locomotive ads were the only ones I've found in the series that were about an industry that was yet to come to Ambridge. And the only ads to feature the same reason Ambridge was wonderful more than once. Later, Porter Locomotive's coming to Ambridge was mentioned in several subsequent ads which I plan to feature in separate posts.

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"Porter Locomotives Will Haul Money into Economy-Ambridge"
Pittsburgh Post,
April 20, 1906

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"Porter Locomotive Shops"
"Double The Capacity of The Company's Present Shops"
Pittsburg Press,
April 22, 1906

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"A Wonderful Engine"
"Economy = Ambridge"
Pittsburgh Post
April 24, 1906

Real Estate Trust Co. ad for Economy-Ambridge
"Realty Values in Economy-Ambridge Forge Ahead"
"one of the largest locomotive works in the world will commence operations"
Pittsburgh Post
April 26, 1906

Did Porter Locomotive ever come to Ambridge?

Over many months I've looked for information about the Porter Locomotive plant in Ambridge, so highly anticipated in 1906 and '07.

To be sure, Porter Locomotive's plans to move its existing Pittsburgh plant to a new plant in Ambridge wasn't just some advertising hoopla dreamed up by the Real Estate Trust Company to sell property. Not only was there information about the planned move in several newspapers, but also, thanks to Sarah Buffington, Old Economy Village's curator, I now have a copy of a 1906 deed showing that the H. K. Porter Co. bought property, not exactly in Ambridge, but rather a bit north, in Harmony Township's Legionville.   

And yes, in 1959, the H. K. Porter Corp. purchased Ambridge's National Electric plant. But by then Porter was no longer making locomotives, and National Electric, which produced electrical products, wasn't located on the property that Porter Locomotive bought in Legionville in 1906.

It looks to me as if Porter Locomotive's Pittsburgh plant remained opened. And that Porter Locomotive may have opened additional plants in locations other than Ambridge. 

I found no information about Porter Locomotive ever building a plant, hiring workers, or producing locomotives in Legionville or Ambridge. Did any of that ever happen?

I've seen Porter Locomotive listed among Ambridge's industries in several places, but none provide more information than the name, and perhaps, mention that it was north of Ambridge. Although I checked with a couple of the writers who had said Porter Locomotive was in Ambridge, they couldn't offer me more information.

So, did Porter Locomotives ever build a plant and manufacture locomotives in or near Ambridge? I don't have the definitive answer to that yet. But right now, I'm inclined to say "no."

I do know that in 1917, Porter sold at least some of the Legionville property to the Firth Sterling Steel Co., and that Firth Sterling later sold the property to several buyers, but that's about it. One of the buyers was Spang Chalfant Co. which according to a March 21, 1939, Daily Citizen article, bought 55 acres on the flat area between the railroad and the Ohio River, previously an "old dairy farm."

There may be people who can tell me about Legionville's history during 1906 - 1917, and I know there are people who know a lot about the history of the Porter Locomotive Co. If anyone can help with additional information about what happened with the plan to move Pittsburgh's Porter Locomotive plant to Legionville, I'd be grateful.

* For a time, the Pittsburgh Press spelled its name "Pittsburg Press," the no "h" spelling dictated by the United States Board on Geographic Names. Other Pittsburgh papers kept the "h". Eventually, the Pittsburgh Press added the "h" back.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Ambridge parade on First St. 1955

Ambridge Golden Jubilee's Miss Greater Ambridge, Helen Witek
National Electric float
intersection First and Merchant Sts.
background: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Patrick Escoto* let me scan some photos that belonged to his late father, Phillip "Pippy" Escote.* Among the photos were some from a parade along what I recognized as Ambridge's First St. before the the neighborhood was razed, beginning with the Marshall Alley buildings in the mid-1950s, then more extensively in the early 1970s, when the entire area was cleared for redevelopment. 

The photos didn't give the date of the parade, or identify the parade participants or the spectators.

However, I am pretty certain that the photos were of Ambridge's Golden Jubilee parade on July 2, 1955, even though I haven't been able to find photos showing the same participants in the news photos of the parade that Ambridge's Daily Citizen called "a massive spectacle."

My best clue so far that these photos are of the Golden Jubilee parade is the Miss Greater Ambridge parade float above, on which Helen Witek, who was chosen for that honor as part of Ambridge's Golden Jubilee celebration, was riding with her court.

None of the different majorette or drum major uniforms in any of the photos match the ones worn at Ambridge High School in the mid-1950s according to photos in the 1954, '55, or '56 Bridger yearbooks. But there were many many marching units in the parade. Recognize anyone?

The very long parade was staged along the 100 and 200 blocks of First St., and then north on Park Rd. But the parade officially started at the intersection of First and Merchant Sts., which once began between the 200 and 300 blocks of First St. So the lucky residents of First St. got to see the parade before those watching elsewhere in Ambridge did.

If you can provide identifying information (people, float sponsors, businesses), or memories of the parade traveling up First St., please leave a comment.

Here are the rest of the Escoto parade photos in no particular order:

All photos in this post are courtesy of Patrick Escoto.
parade traveling along the 200 block of First St.
a row of Marshall Alley buildings on right
on left: Grosdeck's Clover Farm Store, 290-292 First St.

8th St. Toppers float
 making the turn from First St. onto Merchant St.
In background:
Canteen Luncheonette, 300 First St.,
Blossom Grill 296 First St.

Motorcyclist and police cars traveling east on 200 block of First St.
in background at end of street: American Bridge Co.

1916 model car
unidentified driver and passengers
right side: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified kilted bagpipers
right side: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified Navy flagbearers
200 block First St.
far background, end of street: American Bridge Co.

Conway Airport, Ben Mauro Co. Aviation Division entry
unidentified passenger
200 block First St.
on right: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified majorettes
buildings in background: 100, 102, 104, 106 Merchant St.

Taylor's Dairy truck with unidentified clown
200 block First St.
on right: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Ambridge B.P.O. Elks float
in background: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St., 
to the right: end units of two rows of Marshall Alley buildings

Unidentified majorettes and drum major
unidentified location

CIO Local 1211 entry
making turn from 200 block First St. onto Merchant St.

Unidentified drum major and majorettes, unidentified spectators
unidentified location

Unidentified majorettes
in background: Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified color guard and band
200 block First St.

Hot Tamales
representing American Bridge Co. and CIO Local 1270
200 block of First St.

Unidentified rider
Hot Tamales, American Bridge, CIO Local 1270 float
CIO Local 1270 car
on right:
Jimmy's Place, 294 First St.
Blossom Grill, 296 First St. 

Fraternal Order of Eagles 1365
200 block First St.
row of Marshall Alley homes on right

Pittsburgh Mercantile Co. float
on right:
Karas Place, Balkan Restaurant, 291 First St.

Unidentified rider
background: Jimmy's Place, 294 First St.

United Polish Societies entry making turn onto Merchant
On right: Blossom Grill, 296 First St.
buildings on left: on corner: 101 Merchant St.; behind, 303 and 305 First St. 

Unidentified float and revelers 
First and Merchant Sts.
buildings in background: on corner, 100 Merchant St.; behind, 303 and 305 First St.

Unidentified revelers
First and Merchant Sts.
buildings in background: on corner 100 Merchant St.; behind, 303 and 305 First St.

* Not a typo. Patrick Escoto and his father spelled their last names differently.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Ambridge's American Bridge Co. constructing a towboat, circa 1912

"Fabricating steel hull for towboat
at Ambridge plant of American Bridge Company"
Industrial World 
July 8, 1912

I suspect that when many people remember the work done at Ambridge's American Bridge Co. plant, they think of structural steel fabricated for projects such as bridges, skyscrapers, or sports stadiums. But the Ambridge plant also built boats.

Not big boats. The Ohio River isn't deep enough for a shipyard that could build large ships. However, the Ambridge plant had a Barge Yard which built hundreds of barges, mostly freight barges, but also more specialized ones for dredges, derricks, or tanks that carried liquids like oil. 

The plant also occasionally built towboats, or at least the hulls for them, with the boats being finished elsewhere by their owners. 

Towboats are the boats that push barges. So, towboats don't "tow" a barge by pulling it the way a tow truck might pull a car; they push. (What can I say? English is weird.) In contrast, tugboats do pull ships. So, as I learned only recently, the boats you see pushing barges in the Ohio River are towboat, not tugboats. 

I don't know what towboat the photo above shows being built or who ordered it. Industrial World's July 8, 1912 issue doesn't provide that information anywhere that I could find.  And, as of now, I haven't found information elsewhere about a towboat being built in Ambridge in 1912. Perhaps the photo was taken earlier than 1912.


During WWII, American Bridge's Navy Yard, built across Big Sewickley Creek from the plant, also built ships: 123 LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank).

And, during WWI, Ambridge's American Bridge plant fabricated the hulls for large ships that were then sent to shipyards capable of finishing the ships' construction. One of those ships was the freighter U.S.S. Ambridge

The same photo as the one above was also published in Coal and Coke Operator, July 25, 1912.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Allison's Feed Store, 1904 - 1922


Allison's Feed Store
northeast corner 8th St. and Glenwood Ave.
circa 1915
courtesy Louis Vukovcan family

Robert G. Allison was already advertising his feed and flour business in 1904, the year before Ambridge was incorporated.

R. G. Allison ad
Ambridge-Economy Citizen
Sept. 2, 1904

Allison's first location was in the part of Ambridge that was still referred to as Economy, north of what is now 8th St. But he stayed there for less than a year before moving to a building he'd built in the 300 block of Maplewood Ave., near the intersection of what is now 4th St., located conveniently near the new railroad depot and station on the east side of the new American Bridge plant.

R. B. Allison
Stock Feed & Grains
Pittsburgh Gazette Times
February 8, 1914

Eventually, Allison's business outgrew the Maplewood location, and in 1914, he bought property on the northeast corner of 8th St. (then called Bryden Rd.) and Glenwood Ave. He selected that property because it was located next to the spur rail line that had been built through Ambridge. The "Belt Line" ran from French Point, serviced a rapidly growing number of businesses across Ambridge, and eventfully ended at 8th St. next to Allison's new building. (While the spur line no longer exists, an end-of-the-line "bumper" on the east side of 507 8th St. still does.)

Weekly Northwestern Miller
Jan. 12, 1916

In 1922, the building Allison built on 8th St. was sold to William Wall, who had decided to close the bakery he'd operated in Ambridge since 1910. 

"R. G. Allison Sells Feed and Seed Store"
The Citizen
July 18, 1922
courtesy Jefrey Wall

At the end of the above article, Allison described his future plans: "When asked what he purposed doing, Mr. Allison replied, 'Nothing at present, except collect up my accounts.'" 

William Wall, then later his sons, continued to operate the business as a feed and grain store until the demand for those dwindled. The Wall family then switched to primarily selling lawn and garden supplies in that building until they closed the business in 1997. 

Below is the what Allison's 8th St. building currently looks like. You can see the spur line bumper to the right of the building. Several small businesses are currently located in the building.

Former Allison's Feed Store
507 8th St.
June 20, 2021
credit: P. J. Shotter

Here's a closer shot of the bumper:

Train bumper
east side of 307 8th St.
June 20, 2021
credit: P. J. Shotter